PAWDOC: Hardcopy/Electronic mix

The intention of my colleague, John Pritchard, and myself when setting up our filing systems to be Reference Number-based, was to explore what it would be like to operate in an electronic office. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the electronic tools – indexing application, scanner, and document management system – to do the job properly. So, my PAWDOC filing system started off being totally paper-based.  I moved the Index into a database in 1986, but it wasn’t until 1996 that I acquired a scanner and a Document Management System (DMS); so, up until then, my operating practices had been moulded around the needs of paper, and even the electronic files I was creating and receiving were being indexed and stored in paper form (though usually with an electronic copy being kept in the Windows Explorer folder system).

This equilibrium started to change when I got the scanner and DMS. Gradually the emphasis started to move towards digital files. Whereas before I wanted to put paper into PAWDOC (giving rise to significant space problems) now I increasingly wanted to digitise and destroy paper. This change was also stimulated by the growing use of computers in the office, the rise in production of born digital documents, and their distribution by increasingly popular email systems.

In both these eras, however, I had had to manage a mix of paper and electronic files. Pre-1996 before I got the DMS, I mainly used paper and the electronic files were held in the background. From 1996, when I started using the DMS, I used a field in my Index to indicate whether I had a paper or electronic file, which enabled me to look in the correct place for one or the other. This worked well and I did operate effectively using a mix of the two media.

By the time I retired in 2012, I considered that the way paper was being used had changed completely. It was fast becoming just a secondary working medium, with the primary medium for creating and storing documents being electronic. I believe the transition to this third era, is now just about complete. It looks as though we’ll be using paper for the foreseeable future, and we will need to be capable of working with and managing both electronic and hardcopy documents: but, for the purposes of filing, there are only three types of material that need to be catered for:

  • Electronic copies of every item in the filing system
  • Hardcopy working documents – kept for a relatively short period
  • Hardcopy artefacts – significant or unusual documents that are wanted in their original physical form

The latter two categories are relatively small subsets of material – the actual size of which will be dictated by the inclinations of the filing system owner.

Specific questions relating to this aspect are answered below. Note that the status of each answer will fall into one of the following 5 categories: Not Started, Ideas Formed, Experience Gained, Partially Answered, Fully Answered.

Q33. How do you manage items that can exist in both hardcopy and electronic form?

2001 Answer: Experience gained:

  • Ensure there is an explicit marker in the index that indicates if there is an electronic file or hardcopy or both of a particular item.
  • Before throwing the paper away, check that any annotations, post-it notes etc are already included in the electronic document. If they are not, then either type or scan them in (Wilson 1995c).

2019 Answer: Fully answered: Electronic and hardcopy files can be managed in the same filing system by diligent use of the Index. In the PAWDOC system, those documents that are being retained long-term in hardcopy form (because they are significant or have unusual characteristics) have the abbreviation PHYS (for physical) in the ‘Movement Status’ field. It is also advisable to include a similar indicator in the file title of the equivalent digital document so that there is clarity throughout the system about what hardcopies exist.

Should an individual wish to keep some working documents in hardcopy form for a short period for use in meetings or to annotate them etc., then it is feasible to just keep them in a file or box after digitising them either without making any entry in the index (because they should only be a small subset of material which the individual should be familiar with); or with an indication in the index that a hardcopy is also being retained (though this imposes an additional management overhead to insert the indicator and to remove it when the hardcopy is destroyed).

Q34. Is it effective to manage electronic and paper files together?

2001 Answer: Partially answered: Definitely. It is much easier and faster than having separate indexes for each media (Wilson 1995c). In any case, since an individual has only one overall knowledge base, integrated support for that knowledge base should be provided regardless of the different media that parts of it are stored on.

2019 Answer: Fully answered: Yes, electronic and hardcopy files can be effectively managed in the same filing system. I have had extensive experience of doing so over the last 20+ years; it just requires diligent use of the Index. Everything is digitised so the default status is that there is a digital file but no hardcopy. If a hardcopy is retained as well, that information is recorded in the index.

Q35. Is it necessary to keep paper if an equivalent electronic file is available?

2001 Answer: Partially answered: Paper is still needed – even if an equivalent electronic file exists – in at least two circumstances. First, when the paper is to be used in meetings or in other situations in which it is not convenient to use a laptop computer (Wilson 1995b: 113, 114); and second, when you want to keep artefacts in their original form – be that paper, CD, videotape etc. If neither of these reasons applies, the paper can be destroyed and the ultimate scanning prize can be won – the freeing up of a large amount of physical space (Wilson 1997: 3).

2019 Answer: Fully answered: It isn’t absolutely necessary to keep paper if an electronic version is available, but individuals may wish to have both versions for two types of material: documents that you may need to use in the near future and that you prefer to work with in hardcopy format; and documents which are not easily replicated in the electronic environment or which you believe are so significant or unusual as to merit being worth keeping in their original format. The specific documents that fall into each category (if any), and the size of the resulting subsets, will depend on the needs and inclinations of each individual.

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